Slow down if you must but don’t stop – Huancavelica to Cusco

Keep going you lazy ****.

Just find the damn groove.

Don’t blow yourself up by going too fast but equally don’t stop altogether; find the sustainable pace that’s not overwhelmingly painful that allows you to keep making progress. Even if you’re hardly moving it’s better than stopping and making no progress whatsoever.

If you know you can’t sustain the pace for long, choose a slower one; but don’t stop. OK, you can stop but only when you’ve earned it. Only when you’ve knocked off another 2 hours or gained another 600 metres elevation. But not every time you feel like a piece of chocolate….

And so my self-talk continued. It worked. 1500m to 2000m daily climbs were becoming more and more common and with a plane to catch for a brief family interlude, stopping every 15 minutes to snack on crap just wasn’t going to work. So I chose to make progress over giving into whims. Most of our lives are spent making this type of decision: do we do what we feel like doing or do what we need to do? The right answer to this choice is pretty obvious; I can’t remember ever getting to the top of the hill and saying: “hmmm I wish I’d stopped halfway up and snacked on some crap for half an hour; that way I’d still only be halfway up this hill”.

For combating cravings I found a Ted Talk that’s worth listening to (on podcast Ted Radio hour), it goes something like this: “Notice the urge to [insert vice here]. Get curious about it. Feel the joy of letting go.” Example vice – eating too much chocolate. I found it surprisingly helpful. Just enough to pull myself out before it’s too late.

And so back to my trip:

Roaming around Huancavelica looking for junk food I stumble across these energetic people practising a Puno-style dance. Instead of being down in the bar drinking themselves to ill health on a Saturday a large number of them come down to the town square for what could be described as some kind of ‘Running Man’ dance. This type of behaviour seems to be popular throughout Peru. A tinge of envy swept through me, it looked fun. Then I summoned the courage to ask them if I could film…

Here’s how my route from Huancavelica to Cusco panned out.

The climb out of Huancavelica quickly starts looking like this. By now, a familiar topography.

Before the first pass. The landscape in these parts is incredibly open so this rare shelter provides me with timely protection from an impromptu hailstorm. Some may also see a black dog who becomes very interested in my delicious avocado. Sorry fella, not this time.

After cresting the first 4800metre pass a huge black cloud appears on the horizon. Disappointingly it becomes obvious that my route will take me straight into it. The initial hailstorm smacks hard into my bare legs and I unsuccessfully try to protect myself from the impact by putting them together and leaning forward. Adding on my waterproof trousers the hail inconveniently switchs to rain, sleet and snow and one of my top ten coldest and wettest descents commences in ernest. My wet alpaca gloves do very little with the headwind and I lose all sensation in my fingers. After removing a glove to put on my head torch,  it becomes grimly difficult to put back on. Wet, sticky and heavy – arrggh!  Twilight turns into full on darkness as I inch forward with my weak beam doing nothing more than blind me lighting up the sleet falling two inches from my face. Since I have already broken my rear gear shifter I spin out in a low gear on the low gradient and am required to endure this hardship longer than expected. “Suffer. You chose this” I think to myself, grinning stubbornly into the wind.

Zip lock bags. The night riding brings with it very wet shoes. My least favourite bicycle touring hardship. With (small) dry socks inside the plastic bags I beat the inevitable misery and mostly avoid the discomfort the next morning. Always keep a dry pair…

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Short on time and with risk of bad afternoon weather, this morning paved road suddenly becomes more appealing and impressively fast.

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With no obvious place to stay it is with some relief that I am invited to stay on this farm at the very last minute of daylight.

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Fun descent down to Rio Pampa.

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Descending to hotter climes: with its fast currents and slippery rocks, waste high Rio Pampa is tough work to cross. In full rainy season the 10km bridge detour maybe the only option.

Hot dry climate = inevitable cactus + punctures. I repair the tube and swapped it for my new and only spare. During my repair I make the mistake of not checking for extra holes. I pay the price heavily a couple of days later.

Another big climb gets me to Andahuaylas and a realisation that my hostel may in fact be a brothel. See instagram post for more (@nicholasgault)…

The top of yet another massive climb the next day. A day without 1000s of metres of elevation change seem to be unusual in these parts.

Trying to cross the canyon river just before Abancay (copied from my Facebook wall):

With absolute disgust I realise that the main bridge across the canyon to the city of Abancay is a detour that adds 7 or 8 km. It’s cactus territory and by the time I reach the bridge it’s dark and I have a very unwelcome puncture. Cars crossing the bridge light me up with their full beam headlights as I frantically try to repair my bike in the deserted canyon. Of course (unknown to me) my spare tube has multiple holes in it. It’s very windy so finding the holes is absurdly difficult. The passing cars make me feel particularly exposed and vulnerable; an hour passes and my frustration mounts along with a rising sense of panic. I have no idea about the crime rate around here and I’m unable to flag down a lift.

After my third failed repair attempt I cycle off planning to pump up my tyre every 100 metres. Hitting my wheel rim on random stones I make it 1km down the road to a gas station filled with parked trucks. I am hugely relieved after such a long day of riding and now I feel safe. After fixing my tyre with the aid of a bucket of water and bright light, the mechanic offers me a space on the dusty workshop floor that is exposed to the road and has crap all over it. Pressuring him further he points over the wall to a bed (see below) normally used by truck drivers. I pass out. In the morning my hands are covered in flea bites, it’s raining and I have yet another 2500metres of climbing and 120km of riding to do by nightfall. Tonight I vow to stop before dark. I don’t of course, and foolishly ride late to reach my destination…

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The back of the gas station that saves me for the night. This is a side view of my infested ‘bedroom’.

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And my flea ridden bed.

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Then, after a huge all day ascent, this back road descent to Curahuasi balances out the hardship.

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The final long day from Curahuasi to Cusco has me arriving with heavy traffic in the dark (again).

It took me eight long days from Huancavelica to Cusco; I will put my exact route up soon but right now I have to get off this computer.

Next up: the obligatory visit to Machu Pichu.

 


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